Ministry of Education and UNICEF look forward to record numbers of children in classesKABUL, 17 March 2005 – As Afghanistan prepares for its New Year celebrations this weekend, millions of children will also be readying themselves for the start of another academic year, scheduled to begin on 22 March.
The Afghan Ministry of Education and UNICEF expect more than 4 million children to return to school in most parts of the country from next week; Afghanistan has two academic cycles – the majority of schools reopen in March after the winter vacation, while schools in southern and some eastern provinces close during the hot summers. Over the last three years more children than ever before in history have enrolled for classes across Afghanistan, and education planners expect student numbers to increase again in 2005.
In preparation for the return, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education have been working to provide basic classroom stationery and materials to schools nationwide. The harsh winter has caused some delays in distribution with some materials held up en route from Pakistan, and classroom kits for northern provinces delayed in transit from Kabul. Despite the difficult conditions, the Ministry of Education’s Logistics Centre in the capital has now prepared tens of thousands of student kits, containing materials such as exercise books, pens, pencils and other stationery for more than 2 million children, as well as teacher stationery kits for 94,000 teachers, which have now arrived in the provinces. The full distribution to an estimated 4.3 million children is expected to be completed by mid-April.
The Ministry’s Logistics Centre itself demonstrates major developments in national capacity in the education sector. In 2002 the centre was managed by UNICEF, but over the last two years the operation has been handed over to the Ministry – which now has full responsibility for the packing and distribution effort. At present the Centre is producing 5,000 student and teacher stationery kits per day to meet the demands of schools around the country.
In this academic year, students in Grades 1 and 4 in Afghan schools will also benefit from new textbooks, developed in a partnership between the Government, UNICEF and Teachers College Columbia University. The new textbooks are more student-focused and relevant to the new Afghanistan, and mark a notable improvement in the quality of education delivery. Work is continuing on updating the curriculum and textbooks for all primary school grades, with a fully modernised curriculum expected to be ready by 2006.
While some 1.2 million girls have enrolled in Afghanistan’s primary schools since 2002, more than 1 million primary school age girls are still not attending classes. In addition to the support being provided for classroom materials and curriculum development, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education are focusing efforts on developing learning opportunities for girls in communities with no formal school, with the aim of providing education for an additional 500,000 girls in 2005.
UNICEF is receiving generous financial assistance from a number of donors to its education programme in Afghanistan, including Japan, the United States, Sweden and Norway amongst other supporters.